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Understanding Firefighter Foam/Cancer Cases

Given the danger they put themselves in, first responders should be treated as America’s heroes. Unfortunately, many firefighters who used firefighting foam are now suffering serious health problems due to exposure to toxic chemicals in the foam. Now, these brave men and women are struggling with severe life-altering cancers and long-term health conditions, many of which render those afflicted unable to work. Some have even died from cancers that can be traced back to their work as firefighters.

In many situations, firefighters who have been harmed by firefighting foam may be eligible to file for compensation and damages if their ailments can be traced back to the foam they used during training or in the line of duty.

Why is Firefighting Foam Causing Cancer?

The rate at which firefighters develop cancer outpaces the general population by 9%, suggesting there is something about this occupation that puts firefighters at a particularly high risk for cancer. Further, their risk of dying from cancer is 14% higher than the general population, suggesting the cancers that firefighters succumb to are particularly aggressive.[1]

Without getting too far into the chemistry of fire suppressants, it has been found that the foam solutions firefighters use have “PFAS” in them, which stands for “perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.” According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “PFAS are widely used, long lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time. Scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals. There are thousands of PFAS chemicals, and they are found in many different consumer, commercial, and industrial products.” There is sufficient scientific evidence to suggest a direct link between PFAS in fire suppressant foams and cancer-related illnesses in firefighters exposed to such foams.[2]

Further, it’s not just firefighting foam that firefighters have to contend with. Recent research shows that the protective equipment firefighters wear, called ‘turnout gear,’ is made with similar PFAS compounds to what’s used in the foam fire suppressant. The protective equipment is designed to be fireproof, waterproof, and heat-resistant, but the downside to the protective gear is that it contains PFAS, which are now known carcinogens. That means even if a firefighter rarely uses foam suppressants on the job, their gear is still creating a moderate cancer risk for them.[3]

Criteria for Qualifying for Damages and Compensation

How does a former or current firefighter determine if they are eligible for compensation or damages due to exposure to PFAS?

The criteria include the following:

  • Must have been exposed to AFFF (firefighting foam) after 1960
  • Must be a civilian or military firefighter who was exposed to AFFF

If the above criteria are met, the individual must have also been diagnosed with at least one of the following, with the diagnosis occurring at least six months after 1st exposure to the foam:

  • Leukemia
  • Liver cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Testicular cancer
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Organizations like the International Firefighters Association are working hard to create PFAS-free fire suppressants and protective gear for firefighters. But in the meantime, a generation of firefighters is suffering from serious health conditions caused by hazardous exposure to PFAS chemicals. That's why NRS Injury Law is here to protect injured and ill workers’ rights. If you or someone you know has been harmed working as a firefighter, call NRS Injury Law today at 855.468.4878, or fill out our convenient contact form.


[1] BMJ. “Mortality in a cohort of US firefighters from San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia: an update.” British Medical Journal, 2022.

[2] EPA. “PFAS Explained.” United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2022.

[3] NCHN. “Firefighters and supporters are pushing hard for PFAS-free turnout gear.” North Carolina Health News, 2022.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.
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